Written by Emily J. Cappiello Friday, 18 January 2013 00:00
Tools for parents listed on district’s website
More than 60 concerned parents of Island Trees children filled the auditorium at the January PTA meeting, which took place at Stokes Elementary School on Jan. 2. The meeting focused on the new Common Core learning initiatives that are being rolled out this year. Led by Dr. Penny Fisher, principal of J. Fred Spark Elementary School, and Robert Harrington, interim principal of Michael F. Stokes Elementary School, the meeting focused on the major differences that will appear on the New York State tests this spring. And the differences, both said, are major.
“We are competing with other countries for the economic dollar,” Harrington said about the reasons why the U.S. is stepping up education standards, before adding that the curriculum has dropped down a grade – meaning that what children were once taught in fourth grade, they will be taught in third grade. “Full day kindergarten now allows for an enriched curriculum,” he explained.
However, with the first round of the newest state tests being rolled out this spring, Harrington and Fisher discussed the instructional shifts for the Common Core and how parents could help prepare their children at home for the test. The largest shifts in curriculum are in the English and math sectors, where there is an increase in nonfiction literature as well as more practical applications in math. The duo showed the gathered group sample questions from the newest test and compared them to questions from an exam from five years ago. The result? A sharp increase in reading and problem-solving skills will be needed in order for children to excel on the exam – an issue that the school is addressing currently, Fisher said.
“The more we expose our children to work like this, the faster their researching skills will grow,” she said. “But we have been proactive in getting [the changes] into the classroom and preparing the kids.”
The conversation got heated, however, when the fact that the district is having issues getting staff members to offer extra help and this year, extra help would only be offered to students nominated by their teachers.
“The biggest concern among the parents is that their child won’t get the extra help that they need to get them prepared for this test,” said Kathi Sidewitz, a parent and PTA member. To resolve the issue, Dr. Fisher said she would see if there would be high school students available to help tutor the children privately after the parents requested such a service multiple times.
Other challenges include the need for assistance materials at home or classes for parents to help prepare them to help the children when it comes to prepping for the exam. “Not all of our parents have an education and not all of our parents have English as their first language,” one parent pointed out. “How can we help them to help their children?” Although Harrington said that he did not have anything planned, such as parent workshops; he said that he has been putting all Common Core materials on the school website and it is available in several different languages.
Another main concern, according to parents, is the fact that the new curriculum is very challenging for the students; students may begin to feel badly about their academic performance if they don’t do well on these exams.
“This curriculum is de-motivating to these children,” said Karen Mossman, “It’s much more academic and much less fun. It’s a sad state of affairs that we need to be pushing more and more on these…babies,” she said.
“Confidence is fragile at this stage,” added another concerned mother. “If I have a child who does fairly well in school and not so well on this exam, I’m just afraid that it will change the way they feel about themselves,” she added.
Harrington explained that the tests would not be used as an indicator of how children perform overall, but as a way to preventatively identify children who will need to the extra help the next year. “Over-identification will happen at first because we have heard that the test is really hard and there is a lag,” he said.